EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO HARNESS YOUR INNER CAVEMAN AND COMBINE MEAT AND FLAME TO CREATE SOMETHING AMAZING.
Ever since the first primitive grillmaster rotisseried a wooly mammoth flank over an open flame, the concept of cooking outdoors has carried a certain mystique that you don’t find in, say, your average microwave.
It’s a summer rite of passage, posting yourself in front of your trusty grill and coaxing out the flavor from a slab of meat (or vegetables, we won’t judge) while the intoxicating aroma of smoke rises on the breeze.
But what grill is right for you? That primitive cave-chef we mentioned had pretty much one option – set a fire and hope it doesn’t rain. Today’s modern man has conquered the boundaries of the grilling world, creating a wealth of ways to properly cook that meat. Figuring out which one to cook your meat on is no small decision, so with that in mind we present the following primer on the grilling basics.
From the giant trailer-hauled smokers that flood the fields of rib smoke-offs every year to the big-box store offset-barrel smokers, your true pitmaster knows that the key to perfect meat is smoke.
The key here is in low and slow cooking, easing the collagen of tougher cuts of meat into a flavorful juice, by bathing them in heat and smoke. Your offset smoker accomplishes this by letting you get the wood going (hickory or don’t bother) then adjusting the vents to get the perfect mix of heat and smoke traveling through the main cooker and out the chimney.
Don’t have the patio footprint for that kind of hardware? You can look into upright smokers that still manage to keep that indirect heat and smokey flavor, although they tend to be on the pricier side.
LET IT BE
You’ve been delicately searing that choice cut of juicy steak and now every gastronomic impulse in your body is telling you it’s time to feast. But hold your knife there, carnivore. The constriction of muscle fibers as the meat cooks tends to push all the juices toward the center. Let that steak sit a moment and the juices will eventually redistribute, giving you a perfectly moist and tender bite every time.
The classics never get old.
Ever since Henry Ford started turning wood scraps from his Model Ts into charcoal briquettes, which were then sold by his cousin’s husband, E.G. Kingsford, the world has been grilling over coals. And more importantly, they’ve been arguing over how to do it best. Do you start with a pyramid? Lay them flat to evenly distribute the heat? Or just say to heck with it, dump the bag and lay on the lighter fluid?
We’ll let history figure that one out (although we can safely discount that last one). Suffice it to say, charcoal grilling comes with its own challenges – heat regulation, flare-ups, ash cleanup – but offers its own delicious rewards. Looking for that perfectly pink steak with a crackling sear to it? You’re going to want the high heat of charcoal.
Want to test how done that steak is and show your friends a cool trick?
First, press firmly into the steak with your pointer finger. Then, compare its texture with the fleshy part of your palm. If it feels like your palm when the thumb and pointer finger meet (like you’re giving the “OK” signal) it’s rare. Touch your thumb to your other fingers to determine how thoroughly your steak is cooked: thumb and middle finger is medium rare, thumb and ring finger is medium and thumb to pinky is, “aw, darnit, I ruined the steaks.”
Look, sometimes you just want to get dinner on the table.
Yes, smokers offer a fall-off-the-bone tenderness and charcoal lends that perfect texture to a juicy steak, but there’s still something to be said for the classic gas grill.
Convenience, for one. There’s no debate about how best to heat up a gas grill. You turn the crank and push the button. And once it’s up and running you have precise control over where your heat is and how hot it is. Plus, there is a small but dedicated camp who will point out the way gas locks in moisture better than its open-fire counterparts.
And if you really want to fine-tune the culinary experience, there are always the accessories. Throw a rotisserie on there and you’ll get that bird roasted to perfection without breaking a sweat. Higher-end infrared heaters on some models will give even the best charcoal configuration a run for its money. And who needs a giant smoker when you can simply add some hickory chips into a smoker box?
There are plenty of ways to get outside and carry on that eternal tradition of fire, meat and gluttony. We’ve given you the basics, now go out and find yours.
ICE ICE BABY
Here’s quick and easy secret to making a perfectly juicy burger that sounds insane but actually works: roll an ice cube inside the patty. It will keep the meat moist as it melts, providing you keep the heat nice and low. (High heat will leave you with a nice charred meat puck with a pool of semi-melted water in the middle). This will also help avoid the dreaded rounded top burger that can send toppings scattering off your plate.
Grilling: A few simple tips
BY CARRIE HIRSCH
- If you’re using a propane grill which requires a tank, check the level a few days BEFORE your BBQ in case you need to fill up!
- Start with a clean grill – inside and out.
- Pre-cook meats and poultry in the oven partially, then finish on the grill. This shortens your grilling time, avoids undercooking, yet still imparts the distinct grilled flavor and essential grill marks.
- Baste barbeque sauce onto your chicken and ribs during the latter stages of grilling. The longer the barbeque sauce is on the grill, the more prone it is to burn.
- Sometimes even the best grill masters are a bit consumed with the crowd, the beer, and are less than vigilant when it comes to food safety – a few simple steps can be taken to make sure there are no unexpected events to put a damper on the day, or worse.
— Discard any leftover marinade used for raw meats, poultry, or fish.
— Better to overcook, than to undercook: test by cutting into meats to confirm hamburgers are cooked properly (avoid rare meat) and make sure all juices run clear on poultry.
— Clean the grill with a brush and water while the grill is still warm – much easier to dislodge bits of stuck on particles.